Holding up a Study Series workbook at a Lutheran Synodical Convention on April 11, 2015, Rev. Dr. Charles H. Oberkehr told participants representing some 35 Lutheran Churches that the Safe Haven Campaign “has helped make the large problem of human trafficking seem less overwhelming.”
Rev. Oberkehr said that Safe Haven offered his congregation “a tangible means of engaging as part of the solution, and we at Epiphany look forward to partnering with other faith communities in our area as part of the Safe Haven Campaign.”
A project of Global Peace Foundation (GPF) USA, the Safe Haven Campaign provides information and resources to churches and communities to support efforts to rescue victims and prosecute traffickers. Safe Haven organized the Human Trafficking Forum at the Metro DC Synodical Women’s Organization Annual Convention, which drew eighty people. Rev. Oberkehr’s Mount Vernon, Virginia, church became a Safe Haven last year.
GPF USA Vice President and Safe Haven director Ms. Gail Hambleton opened the forum by presenting an overview on human trafficking in America and in the Washington metro area. She explained how public awareness and a good understanding of the issue of sex and labor trafficking lead directly to community tips to law enforcement, which in turn leads to action. “Awareness is Prevention,” she concluded.
Mr. Zachary Terwilliger, Assistant United States Attorney and Director of the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force, gave a sobering presentation on the reality of human trafficking in the region. The lead prosecutor of MS13 gang members on a charges of human trafficking in Northern Virginia last year, Mr. Terwilliger observed that gangs have recently shifted from drug trafficking to sex trafficking for practical reasons.
Sex trafficking, he said, involved both less risk and greater monetary potential: “With one girl, up to $1,000 can be made in one night, and up to $15,000 per month.” And girls are a “renewable resource,” with little capital investment and a ready supply of replacements should a victim be rescued.
Mr. Terwilliger explained how traffickers look for girls who share on Facebook about arguing with their parents and wanting to run away. Gang members will pose as friends and will put out 800-900 leads on social media on a typical evening.
Author, advocate and trafficking survivor Barbara Amaya concluded the forum with a wrenching account of her flight from her abusive home at age 14. Very young and without a sense of belonging, she was ripe for traffickers, who step by step turned her into a commodity. Despite how horrible life was, yet she couldn’t leave.
“This point is always difficult to understand,” she said. “Why don’t the victims run away? Because the mental chains that tied me were stronger than the metal chains used to beat me.”
Ms. Amaya is currently supporting the Washington DC police force in the area of human trafficking.
The Safe Haven Campaign hosted more than 40 symposia and forums in eight states in 2014.
“In today’s world many people keep their eyes shut to such things as Human Trafficking, and it takes great courage to open one’s eyes in the knowledge that every person is a child of God. Today’s program gives us a burden on our hearts and it evokes a response.” –Bishop Richard H. Graham, Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America